Maine’s native brook trout lose legislative battle

An attempt to protect the tributaries to Heritage waters, where Maine’s precious native brook trout are protected, has failed. This is a long story but I will give you a short version.
Last year the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee held a hearing on a bill that representative Russell Black sponsored for me. Among its provisions, the bill offered protection to those tributaries. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed the bill, but after the IFW Committee expressed lots of support for it, the department stepped up and promised to get the job done.
The IFW committee gave them that chance, but carried Representative Black’s bill over to this year’s session, so they could use it to get the job done if the department failed to do so.
The IFW Committee’s work session on that bill was held last Tuesday. DIFW’s fisheries division director Francis Brautigam presented a written report on the department’s work on these issues. It was an extraordinary report, and included a number of inaccuracies.
DIFW organized a working group to assist them with the project, and working group members were at the work session. All of us at the work session agreed that one of the goals, to improve the process of adding more waters to the protected Heritage list, was accomplished.
But another goal, to protect the tributaries to the Heritage waters, was not only not achieved, but continues to be opposed by the department.
Brautigam in his written report stated, “the work group discussed the merit of the proposed protection to the tributaries and acknowledged the proposal addresses a low risk that is not well supported by the department staff. The work group identified another alternative proposal that offers more meaningful conservation and is better supported by staff.”
That is not the truth and working group members Gary Corson and Steve Brooke stepped up to tell the legislative committee that the statement was not true. That was very distressing to IFW Committee members.
The committee allowed a number of us who were not on the working group to speak at the work session which we all appreciated. Bob Mallard certainly expressed my view when he said we should be focusing on no risk not low risk to our native brook trout.
Commissioner Chandler Woodcock arrived in the middle of the work session and started his talk by severely criticizing me. Committee members, especially Rep. Denise Harlow, criticized the Commissioner and came to my defense, which I really appreciated.
It became clear, part way through the discussion, that the committee was divided on using the bill to protect the tributaries in law. So these tributaries will not be protected in the next couple of years. I was particularly distressed when Chandler said, “you can’t make the baitfish crowd upset.” If this is his criterion for protecting native brook trout, that is very sad.
Representative Paul Stearns expressed his belief that there would be little to no opposition to protecting the tributaries by banning the use of live bait there, but there will be a lot of opposition to banning use of live bait in waters where they might migrate into Heritage waters, something that Francis said he wants to do.
Representatives Steve Wood and Denise Harlow were particularly strong on the need to protect the tributaries, and I thank them for that.
Gary Corson said that “The reason we’ve had so many problems protecting brook trout is a lack of staff buy-in” and that the staff has “dug in” against protecting the tributaries. Gary suggested that the legislature “go ahead and protect the tributaries in law.” A lifelong and leading advocate for our native brook trout, Corson said, “In my lifetime, I have watched our native brook trout populations collapse,” including in central Maine where he grew up. He expressed hope that he’ll be able to see his granddaughter catch a native brook trout.
That reminded me that we are making this fight not for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.
After some discussion of using the bill to protect the tributaries, the IFW committee decided to give the department another chance to get the job done. They’re working on a resolve which will direct the department to do that and to report back to the committee next October. The committee’s House chair Bob Duchesne noted that if they don’t get the job done there will be lots of bills introduced in the next legislature to do that.
As the work session wound down, Brautigam actually said that if the IFW committee wants to protect tributaries, the department will do it. I’m very skeptical but I guess we’ll know by next October.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.